Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Tale of Two Surveys.

It was the best of surveys. It was the worst of surveys. OK. Maybe that’s a little overstated, but still…

Anyway, I recently received two emails, and while these would normally be the types of things I’d immediately delete, as a PR/marketing/branding/research/advocacy wonk, I opened them just to see if there was something beneficial. There was, but the “beneficial” I found probably wasn’t what the survey companies intended.

You have a product, service, or message and want to know how to improve it for your customers or audience. What’s one of the first things you do to find out?

You have an idea for a product, service, or message and want to see how people feel about it or if they would support it. What’s one of the first things you do to find out?

The answer to both is simple. You ask.

Sure. There’s the front end work that goes along with it like fleshing out the idea, defining the audience or target market/demo, and establishing measurement benchmarks, but when all of the prep work is done, you get your answers by asking questions.

To quote a friend who frequently mixes his clichés, “It ain’t rocket surgery.”

You may organize an in-person focus group. You may commission a telephone survey. You may get really creative and do something out of the norm (although the results may not be as reliable). You may use an email list and conduct web-based research.

All of these are valid ways to ask the audience, but how do you maximize responses to increase your research accuracy?

For now, let’s focus on web-based research and how to initially engage your audience.

Let the recipient know up front why he or she is receiving the email. This includes being transparent in the “Subject” line. Tell recipients the invitation is for a survey and why they are a part of the survey group (a past or current customer, a voter, a supporter of a certain issue, a consumer of a certain product, an enthusiast of a certain lifestyle or activity). Don’t go for a bait-and-switch where recipients may believe the email is for one purpose when it’s actually for something else entirely. If you bait and switch, at best you’ll irritate recipients and at worst, you’ll lose their support/business. If you’re honest with them about the research, they may be more inclined to share their opinions – depending on how you ask.

Spell check is a great tool, but it doesn’t serve as a substitute for proofing your invitation or survey. When Boston-based Chadwick Martin Bailey, an independent market research firm, wrote that I was “randomly select to participate” in a survey, I cringed. When Ipsos Research said I would be “entered into a draw” for a possible prize, I cringed again. The companies that retained CMB and Ipsos made significant financial investments for customer data collection, and while mistakes do happen, simple things like misspellings can quickly take away from an audience’s perceived professionalism of marketing firms AND the companies they represent.

Time is a valuable commodity. How much is your time worth? You juggle work and a personal life, and the demands of both get bigger over time, not smaller. If you expect target audience members to engage in your web-based research – research that requires them to make the effort as active participants (clicking links, clicking buttons, typing answers responding to “Other”) – make the survey as easy, non-intrusive, and time-respectful as possible. If you receive two survey invitations where one reads, “This survey will take approximately 25 minutes to complete, on average; however, you may take as much time as you would like,” and the other reads, “The survey should take about 5 minutes to complete,” which is more likely to receive responses?

Again, time is valuable. It seems like nobody has enough of it. “Where did the time go?” “There aren’t enough hours in the day.” There’s a reason people say these things. People feel overwhelmed. If you invite someone to participate in a survey, make it worth their while. People are giving time they don’t have to help with research. The least marketers can do is provide the chance that recipients will get something out of participating and sharing their knowledge and experience. If you receive two survey invitations where one offers no hope of compensation for your time and the other reads that “you will be entered into a draw (TMPR Note: Yes. That should be “drawing” instead of “draw.”) for a chance to win one of four $200 prizes,” which is more likely to receive responses?

There are a number of additional things to consider, especially within the survey itself, but the survey becomes useless if nobody clicks through the email to take it.

In a tale of two surveys where one will take half of an hour and give me nothing versus a survey that will take 5 minutes and maybe get me $200 in return, as a consumer, which one am I more likely to at least click and explore?

The term “strategic” is overused when it comes to branding/marketing/PR/advocacy/research, but that’s only because so many people use it incorrectly with no meaning, plan, or action behind it. When there is meaning and a plan of action and a designed set of measurable objectives, strategic means there is an identified set of goals and a methodical way to achieve them. In other words, there is a strategy that has been crafted and implemented.

Be strategic in planning invitations to web-based research and how to provide your survey campaign the best chance for participation and success.

Remember. “It ain’t rocket surgery.” It just takes time, thought, planning, and a team who understands what it takes to pull it all together.

Taft Matney is a partner with TM Public Relations, a strategic communications and governmental affairs firm in Greenville, SC. Follow him on Twitter ( and "like" TMPR on Facebook (

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